Commuters who use the state-run van pool service will have more time to figure out other ways to get to work.

The Maine Department of Transportation has decided to extend the service, which it announced last month would end in May.

Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt indicated that the service would keep running until September, said state Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

But the department’s spokesman, Ted Talbot, said Monday that the length of the extension hadn’t yet been determined.

Talbot said Bernhardt plans to update the Transportation Committee about the extension at a meeting at 1 p.m. today.

About 10 van pool riders attended a Transportation Committee meeting last week, when transportation department officials gave a presentation about the decision to end the service because of the lack of federal funding available to replace aging vehicles.

Although no public comment period was scheduled at that meeting, the committee allowed the riders to speak.

Collins said all of the committee members got calls before the meeting from constituents who were upset about the service ending.

“The main theme that I kept hearing over and over again from concerned citizens was the abruptness of it,” he said.

In a letter sent to Bernhardt last week, more than 100 van pool riders asked for a year-long extension to give them time to look for ways to keep the program going.

Bob Stein, who commutes from Portland to Augusta in a van pool, said a four-month extension would fall “far short” of what the riders were requesting, but he was pleased that the Transportation Committee “pretty clearly heard our concerns and urged (department officials) to reconsider their initial decision.”

“It’s still very much our hope that … if the funding can be identified, the program can keep going,” said Stein.

Talbot said the department has no plans to keep the service going, “but we’ll be easing that transition with a broader timeframe.”

The Go Maine program, which has run the van pools for the past 10 years, will continue to help commuters connect to pools.

A private company, Michigan-based VPSI Inc., has said it can step in to provide a comparable service.

Riders have said they believe that VPSI’s service would be significantly more expensive than the state’s, and be more burdensome because it requires one of the riders to lease the van.

Talbot said Enterprise Rent-A-Car, a national company, and Mermaid Transportation of Portland have also expressed interest in taking over some of the routes.

Transportation officials have said that about 225 commuters, most of them state employees, use the van pool service. Most of the routes go to Augusta from other cities in Maine, including Portland, Lewiston and Waterville.

Other routes include Portland to Lewiston, Augusta to Portland and Van Buren to Limestone.

The state hasn’t had money to replace any of its 27 vans since 2008. Each van costs $40,000 to $45,000 and has a useful life of about five years.


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